Betty Buckley takes on American Idol

Did you hear about Betty Buckley’s recent rant about Randy Jackson of American Idol? She states on twitter, “I just have to say this: I am sick & tired of Randy Jackson bashing what they think is Broadway singing!” You can read her full commentary here

Way to go Betty! There is no doubt she is correct when she states that American Idol is continually sending signals to the young kids of America that a Broadway voice is inferior. I’ve noticed this for years. Simon Cowell has done this continuously.

IMHO, the show producers do need to nip this in the bud, and I truly hope Betty Buckley’s rant will change some of this type of dialog. The judges simply need to leave the word “Broadway” or “trained voice” out of the sentence. We all know, for a fact, that the reason the singer isn’t making it through, isn’t because they are trained or not-trained, Broadway or not Broadway. It’s because the singer doesn’t have the sound quality or “package” these judges are looking for….period. There have been many trained singers make it in the recording industry. Adam Lambert, himself, was accused of having a “Broadway” voice while on AI. Lucky for him, he was so fabulous it didn’t matter, and he went on to win anyway.

Indeed, there is a difference between a Broadway voice and an American Idol voice. Let’s face it, there are great singers in both. Is one better than the other? Well, that’s for you to decide. As for me, “absolutely not! They can both be down-right fabulous!”







Learning how to “belt” sing

There is much debate over what is “belting” in pop music and Broadway, let alone how to actually do it. I am a self-taught belter, and in fact never had any singing lessons until I was in my late 20’s, at which time I had already been singing with a band professionally for a number of years.

If you are classically trained, then belting may not be easy. You may need to undo some of the things you have been taught. If you have no training, then hopefully I can take away some of the mystery as to why you don’t sound as good as your favourite “belter”.

I would describe belting as singing above your first bridge (break, passagio) with thinning cords that are slightly stiffened with very little breath passing through, and a stable, tilted larynx to provide adequate twang. This gives the illusion of a strong chest voice `in the mix“. The belt I’m describing is the sound of Whitney Houston, Kelly Clarkson, Freddie Mercury or Adam Lambert. You know, the “big note” sounds in popular music. This is not the musical theatre belt sound.

The bridge is the area in your voice that differentiates your chest register from your head register. For women this is around A flat (above middle C) to B flat or even B, and for men it is around E flat above middle C to F or even G flat.

These are important areas of the voice. These are also very difficult areas of the voice for most singers. The way a singer handles this area will determine if (s)he can learn to belt safely or not. A singer must be able to maintain cord closure while ascending from the chest register into the head register. In order to main closure, the larynx must tilt and allow the cords to stretch and thin. This is called your mixed voice.  Belting requires extreme control of your mixed voice.

As you ascend in pitch keep that connection but allow the transition to mixed voicing. You will almost start to sound like a cartoon character. (This is the ability to add a cry to your voice to keep the cords thinning and touching on the edges). You do not carry the `heaviness`of the low notes with you as you ascend through the first bridge. You do not need to get louder. It may sound like your favourite singer is singing `heavy“ as (s)he goes higher, but in fact, belters are naturally zipping up their vocal cords as they ascend in pitch. It`s the ability to sing with very little air  that makes these belters sound so good to our ears. It may appear they are “loud” but they are actually not singing any louder than their medium speaking voice.

If you are untrained, and you find you are shouting and cannot decrease or increase the volume of a note above your first bridge, then you are not in a controllable good mix. This can mean a number of things, but in my experience it is commonly a problem with lack of ability to thin out  the vocal cords, while tilting the larynx. If you are a trained singer, and you are shouting as you go over your first bridge and cannot control the volume, then your larynx is possibly not tilting enough to get the cords to stretch and thin. There is a good chance you are sending too much air through the cords to try and get the sound you want.

Belting is not something you should learn on your own without a proper specialized teacher. However, hopefully I have shed some light on some possible habits or obstacles that might be in the way to accomplishing this difficult sound.

Justin Bieber? Taylor Swift? Who really has the voice?

Hi everyone,

I was speaking with the mother of a student yesterday, and the subject of Justin Bieber’s voice came up. She was going on about how he couldn’t sing well, and how annoying it was to listen to.

I didn’t interrupt her but let her finish and go on with her day. However, here is what I was thinking at the time.

Let’s face it, everyone’s interpretation of who is a good singer is going to be different. For example, most singing coaches in the classical world might not consider anyone singing on contemporary radio to be a good singer. Technique can be a crucial indicator to singing coaches, but not even a consideration to the general public.

I want to share with you what I classify as a good singer.

A good singer is someone who can sing in their mix, or in their head voice, or in their chest voice as they choose. And a good singer is someone who can make me, the listener, believe them when they’re singing.

If someone isn’t able to sing in their mix (which is the middle voice of chest and head voice combined), then straight away I don’t believe them. In general, my ears cannot enjoy a voice that is strictly in chest voice, or only head voice. I prefer the sound of using the entire registration.

Justin Bieber does that just fine. No, I don’t want to buy his CD’s, but my daughter certainly does!  I can relate to what this mother might be feeling as she listens to the same songs over and over and over. However, from a technical point of view, Justin Bieber is a very talented singer and will only get better and stronger as he goes through puberty.

On the other hand, I can think of many voices on the radio who can’t sing well in their mix. Let’s take Taylor Swift for instance. She has definitely made her mark in the world of song writing, but she is bad news for all those young girl singers out there trying to copy her. It’s these young girls who buy her CD’s! They love her stories about heartbreak and boys.  But, the bad news for these singers is that her songs are easy to imitate. By that I mean, these young girls don’t have to sing in their mix. They can sing any of her songs in their chest voice alone. This is extremely detrimental for young singing voices.

I imagine you will start to notice Taylor Swift’s range increase in the next album or two as she learns how to mix her voice better with the help of Brett Manning. He is, as I understand it, one of her vocal coaches. As her middle voice strengths she will be able to sing higher notes, but most likely this will present in her songs as a chest belt. This is typical of many singers in contemporary radio music. That happens to be the type of voice that music producers love to record, because they sell lots of CD’s!

I can think of some great singers who can belt well in their mix. Celine Dion is, of course, the master. And, let’s not forget Kelly Clarkson, and Adam Lambert. Oh my, how we love to listen to the mixed belt!

Style of music is a definite indicator as to the type of voice you may be listening to. Let’s take the beautifully-controlled and balanced voice of Barbra Streisand. Wow, is all I can say. This is “mixing heaven” to me, lol.

And, what about the voice and style of Leanne Rimes. Why do we love her so much? Well, she has a unique voice that is not only well balanced in the mix, but she can also do this fabulous flip (yodel) between her chest and head voice. This yodel is sooooooo smooth that it has really become her signature, and it really sets her apart from most other singers.

Well, that’s it for today. I want to thank the mom I spoke with yesterday for inspiring me to blog on this topic today. I welcome your comments. Bye for now. Susan